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Access to information : Journalist calls for passage of FoI Bill

By Innocent Anaba

Socio-Economic Rights Initiative, with the support of Misereor, Germany, recently organised an interactive forum for journalists engaged in reporting human rights and democratic governance issues in the country.

The forum  took place in Lagos and it sought to assess and review the general human rights and democratic governance situation in Nigeria from the perspective of media practitioners, who constitute the basic source of information on public interest issues.

Such review was considered necessary in view of the express commitments of the government to respect the internationally recognised economic, social and cultural as well as the civil and political rights of all Nigerians and all persons resident in Nigeria.

Besides, the administration of President Umaru Adua’ardua operates a seven point economic agenda, whose implementation is anchored on the human rights principles of due process and rule of law and  the forum provided journalists a platform to bare their minds on the challenges they face in the course of reporting human rights issues and to suggest the way forward.

Two lead presentations by practicing journalists, one in the broadcast media and the other in the print media, set the tone for the discussions that  followed. The first presentation was entitled Journalism and Human Rights and the second presentation was Self Censorship as a Tool Against Human Rights Reporting. These presentations were the high points of the discussions at the forum. The discussions revolved around the above-mentioned issues.

It was observed by participants that human rights abuses were still rampant and also largely under reported in the country and that even in situations where the guilt of the perpetrators have been established, remedies to victims usually do not go beyond an apology. These abuses range from physical attacks, abduction and illegal detention of journalists, to threats of dismissals or actual dismissals from employment, to closure of media houses.

In some more unfortunate cases, many journalists have died in very suspicious circumstances. Obstacles and impediments to  reporting on human rights and democratic governance in the country observed by the participants includes, limitations imposed on Nigerian journalists by unfavourable economic and social circumstances, which constitutes impediments to their effective performance as they cannot even fight back when their rights are abridged.

-A hostile political environment that has branded every journalist as a tool of an opposing political campand  made it inadvisable for them to pursue human rights cases to their logical conclusion as such doggedness exposes them to danger.

-Whenever there is a clash of interest between the report of a journalist and the interest of the proprietor or promoters of the medium he works for, the report of the journalist and sometimes the career of the journalist himself was bound to be the victim of the clash.

-Rule of law and due process are yet to be enthroned in the country and the failure of the government to create a conducive environment through enactment of appropriate legislations and enforcement of existing ones accentuated the hazardous nature of journalism practice in the country.

-The  continuing absence of an attractive welfare package, including an insurance scheme for media practitioners in the country is a serious impediment to their effective performance.

-Government dominance of the broadcast media scene is an impediment to the growth of the industry as the coverage of some issues by such media houses were usually tilted in favour of the governments that owned them to the detriment of the rights of citizens.

Participants on the way forwards, suggested that there should be regular sensitization sessions for journalists to keep them abreast of developments in the human rights sector, while journalists need to be trained on strategies of human rights reporting.

They also agreed that pressure should be mounted on the National Assembly to pass the Freedom of Information Bill as this will facilitate access to information by journalists and others.


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